Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

chicago cubs logo featureAfter a tough two week stretch, reliever Brian Schlitter is headed back to AAA Iowa. In his place, the Chicago Cubs are bringing in a bench reinforcement in the form of Junior Lake.

Schlitter, 29, seemed to fall out of favor with Joe Maddon despite some early trust in high-leverage situations. With others in the pen – Gonzalez Germen and Zac Rosscup, most notably – flashing success, with the pen well-rested, and with Schlitter likely being relegated to middle relief duties, it was a good time to finally return to a more normal 12 pitchers on the roster. Schlitter departs with a 9.53 ERA and 7.29 FIP over 5.2 innings. He has a more modest 3.88 xFIP thanks to a 40% HR/FB rate.

Seasons are long, and bullpens are fickle. Schlitter may be back at some point.

Junior Lake, 25, appears to have been reinventing himself over the course of the past six months or so, trying to take better advantage of his speed and athleticism by abandoning some of his power at the plate in favor of a more patient, higher-contact approach. While that worked well in winter ball and Spring Training, the results so far at AAA have been mixed: he’s hitting .289/.340/.333 with an 8.0% walk rate (down a bit) and a 24.0% strikeout rate (up a bit).

Lake’s stay with the Cubs could be temporary, pending the return of a guy like Tommy La Stella (DL, side injury) or Matt Szczur (not eligible to return for 10 days after he was optioned on April 18). Or maybe working with the big league coaches will help, and his speed off the bench will help him stick around for a while. In theory, Lake can play all over the outfield and some spots in the infield in a pinch (something Joe Maddon has shown a willingness to take advantage of).

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